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Socialist "Revisionism": The Immediate Tasks of Social Democracy (1899)

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Today, there is a lot of talk about the conquest of political power by Social Democracy, and it is at least not impossible, given the strength it has attained in Germany, that some political event in the near future will assign it a crucial role. But precisely under these circumstances, since neighboring countries are not so far advanced, Social Democracy – like the Independents of the English and the Jacobins of the French Revolution – would be compelled to be national to maintain power, that is, it would have to assert its ability to be the leading party, or class, by showing that it is capable of giving equal consideration to class interests and national interests. [ . . . ]

In principle, what has been said above has already indicated the perspective from which Social Democracy must take a position on questions of foreign policy under the current conditions. While the worker is not yet a full citizen, he is also no longer so bereft of rights that national interests can be a matter of indifference to him. And while Social Democracy is not yet in power, it does assume a position of power that imposes certain obligations on it. Its word carries considerable weight. Given the current composition of the army and the complete uncertainty about the moral effect of small-caliber firearms, the Reich government will think ten times before it hazards a war against the determined opposition of Social Democracy. Thus, even without the famous general strike, Social Democracy can speak a very weighty – if not decisive – word in favor of peace, and it will do so as often and as vigorously as is necessary and possible, in keeping with the time-honored motto of the International. Moreover, in accordance with its program, in cases where conflicts arise with other nations and direct resolution is not possible, it will advocate that these differences be settled through arbitration. But nothing commands it to support the renunciation of Germany’s current or future interests, if, or because, English, French, or Russian chauvinists take offense at the relevant policies. Where we are not dealing with partiality or special interests of certain circles on the German side, which matter naught to the people’s welfare or are actually deleterious to it, where important interests of the nation are, in fact, at stake, internationalism cannot be a reason for yielding weakly to the pretensions of foreign interests. [ . . . ]

Of greater importance than the question of pressing the demands that are already on the program is the question of adding to the program. In this regard, practice has put a series of issues on the agenda, some of which – when the program was created – seemed too far off in the future to be of any immediate concern to Social Democracy, some of which, however, were not sufficiently recognized for their full significance. They include the agrarian question, questions of municipal politics, the question of cooperatives, and various questions of industrial law. The great growth of Social Democracy in the eight years since the drafting of the Erfurt Program, its effects on domestic politics in Germany, as well as the experiences of other countries have made a more intense engagement with all these issues absolutely necessary, and, in the process, some of the views that were once held have been substantially revised.

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